After a relaxing week on the beach outside Puerto Vallarta, it was time to return to the real world. But I can’t talk about getting back to the real world until I explain the process of what has to happen before even boarding an airplane from a foreign country, and that’s the plan for today. To say it’s a mess would be an understatement.
Now that all arrivals into the US are required to produce a negative COVID test taken within
72 hours 3 days before travel, most hotels have made it easy for travelers to get it done. Unlike many, however, the Conrad Punta de Mita didn’t include the cost of the test. They just made a ballroom at the hotel available for a third party to come in and do the work.
When we checked in, the hotel gave us forms to fill out and asked us if we wanted an antigen or PCR test. Antigen at $65 is half the price, it’s faster, and that’s all the US requires. I had no idea why we’d want anything else, and the hotel had no reason either. They told us to come at 8:30am to a ballroom the day before travel. We didn’t argue, but I later realized that was not a smart strategy.
Since the US allows tests taken within
72 hours 3 days of travel to be accepted, I’d suggest doing it as close to the limit as possible in case there are any issues. We all tested negative, so it wasn’t a problem, but they had to send us an email a few hours later, we had to check for accuracy, and then they said they’d have it printed out at the front desk that night. This was anxiety-inducing since it wasn’t clear how the process would go. Extra time is always good.
As it turned out, when we got the email, the birthdate month and day were transposed for my wife and kids since my wife had filled it out MMDD instead of DDMM. We had no idea if this would be a problem or not, but we emailed them and then a couple hours later we had them fixed.
At this point, I went down one path while my family went down another. I had downloaded Verifly on my phone since American partners with them for incoming travel. I set up my trip to the US with flight details, and it told me along the way what I needed to do in order to get back home. I uploaded a copy of my COVID test, it made me fill out an attestation form for the US government, and finally I had to complete a checklist. After that, the app put a big green check mark next to the impressively awful picture I had taken of myself when setting the thing up, indicating I was good to go.
My wife did not download the app, but we didn’t really care since the kids didn’t have a phone to download it to anyway. (American tells me that the week after our trip, the app began supporting multiple travelers, so that’s good news for families.) She and the kids didn’t have to do anything until we got to the airport… except to get a paper copy of the test results, something I apparently wouldn’t need thanks to Verifly. (At least, nobody checked mine.)
We didn’t pick up the test results the night of the test, but we instead waited until we checked out the next morning when I almost forgot to ask (and the front desk agent didn’t mention anything). Fortunately, I remembered before we left, and they were right there waiting for us.
I tried to check-in on my phone, but American says you can’t do that. I’m not sure why I would have expected any different. We arrived at the airport a little more than 2 hours before departure, and it wasn’t very crowded but it was chaotic.
In front of the line for the American ticket counter, there was a makeshift table that acted as a gateway for all travelers. Since I had Verifly, I just showed them my phone with the checkmark and I was allowed to pass through to the line for the counter. The rest of the family, however, had to present the copy of the test results and then they were given the attestation form to sign while we waited in line.
It’s unclear why they had four counters right next to each other being used when there were multiple empty spots on the side. They could have spread out, but they did not.
It took awhile to get checked in. They had to check all the documentation, tag the bag, and all the usual stuff, but then there was this mess:
We used the QR code on the right to download the health form for the Mexican authorities which we found out after asking that required just one per household. I filled that out on my phone as we waited, and I’m glad I did. When we went upstairs, they had set up multiple tables for people to fill them out in writing, and we jumped ahead of all those crowds, after some confusion.
Then I used the QR code on the left to fill out the Los Angeles COVID form saying that we understood the LA County rules about quarantining. Every adult has to do that one, but nobody is checking anywhere along the way, so it seemed pretty useless. Oh, and we had to pay the bag fee, which I forgot about, because the credit card only waives fees for dometic travel. Damnit. This whole process was shockingly confusing, and I’m a savvy traveler. I can only imagine the confusion it causes others.
Once we passed the gauntlet of health form tables, they checked on my phone to see we’d filled out the form (but never scanned the QR code or looked at the details), and then they took our temperatures. After that we were in the regular security line where things moved as normal. Finally.